Introducing an activeflex teaching model into pre-existing online courses

Steps for designing and implementing an activeflex model of teaching in pre-existing online courses, shared by Marla Williams

Marla Williams 's avatar
16 May 2022
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Athens State University

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Nothing really beats the genuine and authentic discussions that occur in face-to-face classroom instruction. So when considering those studying online courses, is it possible to develop this experience in a digital format? This was the task I chose to address at my university in order to bring live and open discussion into our online courses. I did so through the implementation of the activeflex model of instruction, which combines active learning with a hybrid flexible (hyflex) model.

What is the activeflex model of instruction?

Activeflex instruction is designed for students who want the live and real-time campus atmosphere in an online environment. This model gives students greater control over how they receive instruction on a week-by-week basis. Currently, most courses are taught in face-to-face, online or blended (hybrid) course formats. While all these modes have pros and cons, they do not allow students the flexibility of choosing a different format based on their instruction needs. The activeflex model allows this flexibility between a live or asynchronous learning format. Keep in mind, there are assignments required each week that are not included in the activeflex format. The activeflex assignments form one small part of the weekly schedule requirements.

What does activeflex look like from a student’s perspective?

An activeflex schedule with live sessions is created and shared at the beginning of the semester. Students can choose to attend live online sessions and complete assignments with their peers, or they can choose to complete the same work in their own time on an individual basis. Each week, students determine if they need additional discussion and help based on the required readings and assignments. During the live online sessions, students engage in presentations, discussions with the professor and each other. They complete reinforcement activities and review the requirements for the upcoming assignments. Students who choose not to attend live can watch a short, pre-recorded video covering the presentation shared in class and then complete the reinforcement activity on their own.

How difficult is it to create an activeflex format in a pre-existing course?

Anyone wanting to introduce this flexible approach to teaching should begin by building a strong partnership with the technology staff at their university. Our fabulous IT staff work closely with us to create new and innovative strategies for improving our courses.

I use the 30/30/30 model.

1) I cover new course content in the first 30 minutes. To cater for students who cannot attend live, instructors need to create a short 15- to 20-minute video per weekly module. During live classes, the instructor covers what is presented in the videos.

2) Students work in small groups to complete a reinforcement activity and discuss what they have learned during the next 30 minutes. In the live classes, students work in small groups, but they can also be completed as a solo endeavour by asynchronous students.

3) We complete a question-and-answer session and review upcoming assignments in the last 30 minutes. In live sessions, the students can share their ideas and discuss them as a whole class. Rubrics must be created to evaluate student engagement and understanding of the required tasks.

What does activeflex look like from the instructor’s perspective?

The planning and set-up requires a lot of work, but it is worth the effort. It takes time to design the reinforcement activities and discussion points to ensure that levels of intensity increase as students progress through the course.

For example, in an education assessments course, students work in small groups to first look at teacher feedback on an elementary student’s work and critique whether or not the feedback is constructive, then they offer suggestions for improvement. The next reinforcement activity requires students to read an elementary student’s work and offer their own feedback, which is then shared in a whole-class discussion. Designing activities that build intensity and create opportunities for quality discussions takes time. But it pays dividends as students enjoy the discussion and welcome being challenged to describe their thinking and decisions as they complete the assignment.

How has the activeflex design changed my course?

As students become more comfortable with the format, they are more engaged and open in their questions and discussions. It’s lovely to see students smile and laugh as they deliberate with each other through the live sessions. Students appreciate the flexibility to choose whether or not they need to attend live sessions to complete the weekly assignments. When they do attend the meetings, most have already previewed the assignments and readings and have prepared questions. I have found that students attend these meetings better prepared than if I were teaching face to face.

Marla Williams is an assistant professor of elementary education at Athens State University.

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